If you’re like the vast majority of Americans, the sound of your morning alarm mostly serves as a cue to roll over and hide your head under the covers. Getting out of bed can be tough, but it doesn’t have to be torture.
“If you’re sleep deprived, it takes a lot longer to feel refreshed and alert when you wake up,” says Meeta Singh, M.D., a sleep specialist at Henry Ford Health. “During sleep there’s less blood flow to the brain. As you wake, consciousness returns immediately, but alertness lags behind.” The more sleep deprived you are, the longer the lag time.
Want to wake up refreshed? Making just a few tweaks to your a.m. routine can help you feel more energized and alert when the alarm bell sounds. Here are six strategies guaranteed to put a spring in your step:
- Sleep (Obviously!). The best way to wake up refreshed is to get seven to nine hours of sleep each night, says Singh, who stresses the importance of establishing good sleep habits. Keep your bedroom dark, cool and peaceful. Nix alcohol and caffeine several hours before bedtime and shut down all electronics at least an hour before you turn in.
- Work with your sleep cycle. Your body’s natural circadian rhythm is designed to wake up with light and sleep in darkness. Do the best you can to mimic that lighting no matter when you rise and turn in. Step into the sunlight within a few minutes of waking to cue your body that it’s time to wake up. Work nights? Keep your room dark during the day so you can sleep and immerse yourself in light during your waking hours.
- Consider a.m. exercise. If you’re a morning person, an a.m. workout can help you feel more energized. Exercise not only improves circulation, it also produces mood-boosting hormones. In fact, as little as 10 minutes of movement can make you feel more refreshed and alert. The only caveat: If skipping your morning exercise routine nets you an extra hour of sleep, that’s almost more beneficial than exercise, says Dr. Singh.
- Eat a solid breakfast. If your daily fix is coffee and a Krispy Kreme, that could be contributing to your morning sluggishness. After fasting all night, your body needs real fuel (preferably a mix of protein, carbohydrates and fat). A few solid choices: oatmeal topped with nuts and berries, scrambled eggs on whole-grain toast or plain low-fat Greek yogurt and fruit.
- Do something that brings you joy. Whether you take an invigorating shower, play with your dog or indulge in a strong cup of coffee, engage in morning activities that energize you and make you feel happy.
- Don’t hit snooze. “Repeatedly hitting the snooze button on your alarm can actually make it harder for you to feel awake and alert,” says Dr. Singh. In fact, consistently waking up and snoozing for 10 minutes each morning adds up to more than an hour of interrupted sleep over the course of a week. A better bet: Set the alarm for when you actually have to get out of bed — and don’t hit snooze.
Make Sleep a Priority
If you really want to wake up refreshed and alert, make a commitment to get enough sleep.
“Some people need more sleep than others, but almost everyone needs between seven and nine hours each night,” says Dr. Singh. Work backward from your required wake-up time to set a reasonable bedtime. Then, establish a solid sleep schedule that includes a pleasurable morning routine.
Maybe you meet a friend for coffee, take an early stroll or whip up a tasty breakfast. Over time, your brain will begin to anticipate these morning activities and you’ll wake up more naturally.
Dr. Meeta Singh specializes in sleep medicine and is the Service Chief and Medical Director for the Sleep Disorders Center at Henry Ford Medical Center – Columbus in Novi.